Dear Consett Magazine Readers,

My name is Dorothy Cavanagh – I am sharing a personal account of my life with you, beginning with my birth on 26th December 1933 at the Spa Gardens in Shotley Bridge. My mother’s family, originally from Wylam, settled in Shotley Bridge towards the end of the 19th century. My aunt Dora was born in 1897, and uncle Fred in 1900.

The Spa, initially under the Richardson family’s care, was renowned for its iron-rich medicinal well. This family was also involved in local amusement parks. Our family eventually moved to Wheelbirks farm near Whittonstall, which still belongs to our family and is now famed for its tea rooms and homemade ice cream.

My grandfather, a respected figure in our community, ran a market garden at the Spa and worked part-time at the local post office. Our home was a popular gathering spot for locals. The festive season was always bustling, with our living room, which doubled as a bathing spot, filled with the flurry of chicken plucking.

Music played a significant role in our family life, with my grandfather often leading us in singalongs on his accordion. We were regulars at St Cuthbert’s Church, where William Westgarth, a local estate agent, was a key figure.

The outbreak of World War II brought significant changes. I joined the Girls Friendly Society at St Cuthberts and navigated the challenges of wartime blackouts. I have vivid memories of the community working together to clear snow-blocked roads at the Spa during winters.

Ownership of the Spa shifted from the Richardsons to the Priestman family, a well-known local gentry. With the advent of World War II, Shotley Park was converted into a nursing home.

I began my nursing career at Shotley Bridge Hospital at the age of 16, often travelling through dense mists. Summers at the Spa were magical, with hours spent playing by the stream and river.

During the war, I attended Benfieldside Junior School. Our headmaster, Mr. Davidson, also led the local Home Guard, conducting drills in the Spa grounds. My school days were filled with innocent crushes and adventures, including bike rides and foraging with my parents.

The war years also saw my family adapting to new circumstances, especially with my brothers serving in the Royal Navy, which was a source of great worry for my mother.

Our family faced the premature loss of my siblings. Despite my own health challenges and missed schooling, I managed to achieve success both academically and professionally. Today, at 90, while physically constrained, my mind is as sharp as ever. My current whimsical wish is to own one of Gyles Brandreth’s “Pigs might Fly” jumpers.

Yours sincerely,
Mrs. Dorothy Cavanagh,
90 Years Old on 26th December 2024

PS – Happy birthday to Dorothy from everyone at Consett Magazine – thank you so much for sharing your story and fantastic photographs!

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